Wait, Millions of People Are Still Buying ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ from 2013? Here’s Why

‘GTA 5’ sold more than ‘FIFA 2019,’ ‘Dragon Ball: Fighterz,’ ‘Battlefield V’ and other newer games in the past year

gta5 mobile
Rockstar Games

One game stood out like a sore thumb on the latest Top 20 Highest-Selling Games list released annually by The NPD Group at the end of January. Amid new games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Spider-Man was Grand Theft Auto V, which came out five years ago in 2013. Yup, “GTA 5.”

Looking at all the newly-released games that GTA 5 outsold really puts it into perspective. GTA 5 sold more than FIFA 2019, more than the celebrated Dragon Ball: Fighterz and even more than the brand new Battlefield V. At No. 11, GTA 5 sold just less than Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which came in at No. 10. Additionally, these total numbers are probably a lot higher since The NPD Group doesn’t track digital sales.

Everyone expects a Grand Theft Auto game to sell well, but few would expect that momentum to last for as long as it has. GTA 5 was even No. 6 on the most-sold games in the U.S. list in both 2016 and 2017. These numbers are particularly fascinating for the video games industry, which is traditionally rooted in having a fairly short attention span and celebrating the next thing to come along.

Who is still playing GTA 5 after all these years? More importantly, who is still buying the game after all these years? What has developer Rockstar Games done to keep the game interesting enough for people to purchase it years after its release?

What is actually the deal with GTA 5?

Grand Theft Auto V has cracked a code that many developers are constantly trying to unravel: How to get players to not only buy your game but stick with it for a long time.

The single-player story is, of course, the traditional draw to get people playing a GTA game, but Rockstar really hit the nail on the head with Grand Theft Auto V Online. Though Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption had populated, burgeoning online modes, Rockstar not only seemed to grasp what players wanted from GTA 5 online, but they also committed to continue building it out.

That success has led to what is estimated to be the most profitable entertainment product of all time. And it’s one of the most-played as well. Though Sony doesn’t release specific numbers, enough information has been gathered to estimate that GTA 5 has been the overall most-played game on the PlayStation 4, with almost 20 million more players than Fortnite. Microsoft has not released a comprehensive number either, but the game regularly shows up on the top five of the most-played games.

GTA 5 has also fit in perfectly with video game culture’s current obsession with streaming. The flexibility and freedom of the game’s experience, as well as how Rockstar has committed to extending the game’s life with complicated Heist missions has continually made it rank high on Twitch. Over the past seven days, GTA 5 has ranked 11th in average viewers in the top games on Twitch.

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Rockstar Games

The house that Rockstar built

Grand Theft Auto V Online has been the most compelling reason for people to continue buying and returning to Los Santos, the fictional city in GTA 5, over and over again.

When it originally launched, a month after the initial game’s release, issues and the in-game economy turned many people off. Rockstar quickly responded to many complaints, even offered players $500,000 of in-game currency to make up for the issues, slowly but surely shoring up the public opinion while beginning to offer more and more for players to do.

At its beginning, Grand Theft Auto V Online was mostly deathmatches, races and assorted missions. However, over time, Rockstar turned it into something more akin to The Sims. Rockstar added a number of clothes, cars, weapons, apartments and more for players to buy and personalize, with money all earned through missions or through microtransactions. And then in 2015, Rockstar added Heists—complex, longer missions, comparable to Destiny’s Raids—where squads of people coordinate to get more in-game currency to buy more cosmetics.

Rockstar hasn’t stopped there. The most recent update, released in early December, is Arena War. It places players in a gruesome, deadly game show, where they compete with others online for prizes and applause.

Over the game’s five-year history, Rockstar has built out the content offering to a staggering degree, and that doesn’t even include the modding community.

Modders make it move

Rockstar may have built the bones, but it took vibrant, creative players to put some flesh on it. The modding community around GTA Online has expanded what the game can do and also what people have come to expect from it in extremely interesting ways. A lot of this is through the rise of dedicated, modded roleplay servers, which create a place where players can live various lives, all heavily moderated.

Players can be truckers, taxi drivers, laborers, drug dealers and more as a way to exploit the variety that fills Los Santos. If a player wants to turn to a life of crime, they have to hide their deviant behavior from other players filling the role of police. An arrest can put players in prison for a set amount of time. Real-life voice calls, text messages and in-game coordination have given GTA 5 a new (and heavily-streamable) life.

Roleplay servers are just the tip of the iceberg for how players have expanded GTA 5 and helped Rockstar turn the game into the success it is.

The dedication to expanding content, along with the tireless creator community, seems to have been what keeps people buying GTA 5 and keeps them coming back

- Peter Clark

GTA 5 may serve you now

Games as a Service (GaaS) as a business model has reached a fever pitch in the industry. Many new games seek to continually offer more content so players stick around and spend more money.

While the model began back in the early days of World of Warcraft, and slowly evolved through DLC and map packs, many list Destiny as one of the games that refined the model and brought it to consoles. However, Grand Theft Auto V Online was one of the first true GaaS in the modern sense. It not only included microtransactions to boost in-game currency, but Rockstar has also created at least yearly updates of content that has expanded what players can do. Not only that, but it has been extremely profitable for Rockstar and publisher Take-Two Interactive. Continuing to update with new content that widens what new and old players can derive from the game has turned to be an investment worth making.

The dedication to expanding content, along with the tireless creator community, seems to have been what keeps people buying GTA 5 and keeps them coming back. All of this makes it clear that GTA 5 isn’t going anywhere soon. The strong base of sales and player interest all but ensure that people will continue to play it for years to come. As far as I’m concerned, Grand Theft Auto VI is still years away, and GTA 5’s success means that Rockstar can take its time developing it. While GTA 5 might dip on the 2019 charts, I wouldn’t be surprised if it still showed up in the top 20.

Read more: A Surprise ‘Fortnite’ Competitor Just Came Out of Nowhere: ‘Apex Legends’

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